WATSONVILLE — Since the levees were built in the 1940s, the Pajaro River has flooded numerous times over the decades, resulting in not only millions in damages, but one death in 1995.
Last winter's storms caused $10 million in damages to the levee system, and some minor flooding.
A meeting held Wednesday at the Watsonville Civic Plaza gave residents who live in the floodplain an opportunity to see a plan that aims to greatly reduce the Pajaro River's flood risk.
County Supervisor Zach Friend, chair of the Flood Control and Water Conservation District Zone 7, said the current level of flood protection is estimated at five years, and is thought to be one of the lowest in the nation.
"It's well past time to get the residents of Watsonville and the Town of Pajaro protected," he said.
The tentative plan, drafted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is expected to provide a 100-year level of protection for both Watsonville and Pajaro.
Released on Oct. 31, the plan would, among other things, construct 7.3 miles of new levees along the lower Pajaro River as well as five miles of levees on Salsipuedes and Corralitos creeks.
"Getting to this stage has been a long time coming," Friend said. "It's a significant first step toward getting us to construction."
The cost of the more than $245 million project will be divided between the federal government, Santa Cruz County and Monterey County.
The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking the public's input on the project, with the review period ending on Nov. 30.
Tom Kendall, chief of the Planning Branch of the San Francisco District of the Army Corps of Engineers, reminded attendees at Wednesday's meeting that the plan is only tentative, and public input will be incorporated into the final plan, expected to be chosen by summer 2018.
"This is not the be-all, end-all design," he said.
Construction is roughly estimated to begin in 2021 and wrap up in 2025, Kendall said.
"We are looking forward to this proceeding," said David Chardavoyne, general manager of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. "We are pleased at the renewed interest from the Corps."
Watsonville City Councilman Felipe Hernandez said the project would not only protect residents' homes, but would bring down the cost of flood insurance and raise property values.
"It's the furthest we've been in this project in the last 20 years," he said.
The 30-day public review period ends on Nov. 30. The draft report can be found at tinyurl.com/ychuzwag or at the Watsonville Public Library, 275 Main St., Suite 100.
Comments can be sent to [email protected] or by mail to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco District, ATTN: CESPN-ET-PB-Pajaro River, 1455 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1398.